Episode 20 Summary: What challenges have women faced in the workplace historically and today?

Welcome to the latest episode of the Steps to Change podcast, where your host, Alan Liedkie, dives into the transformative world of learning and development, organisational behaviour, and the practical steps needed to inspire meaningful change.

In this compelling session, Alan is joined by Liz Jones, a seasoned expert with a wealth of experience in the corporate sector and a profound insight into the journey of women in the workplace. Together, they unpack the historical and present-day challenges that women encounter in their professional lives and explore innovative strategies to foster a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

Read on to learn more about the challenges that women face in the workplace and discover how an experiential learning approach can support an equitable working environment.

The Challenges Still Facing Women in the Workplace

Women in the modern workplace continue to navigate a complex landscape of challenges that can significantly impact their professional growth and personal well-being. Despite progress in some areas, the remnants of historical biases and systemic barriers persist, subtly influencing the work environment and contributing to ongoing issues.

One of the primary challenges that women face is the lingering perception of their roles and capabilities, which can lead to a patronising attitude from colleagues. This issue is not new but has evolved in its manifestation, with women often finding themselves in situations where their contributions are undervalued or overlooked.

The struggle to be taken seriously and to be seen as equals in leadership and decision-making roles is a significant hurdle exacerbated by the scarcity of female role models in senior positions. This lack of representation not only limits the visibility of potential career paths but also contributes to a cycle of underestimation and exclusion.

Additionally, the balance between professional ambitions and personal life is a tightrope that many women walk, particularly in cultures that have not fully embraced or accommodated the realities of modern family life. The assumption that women will prioritise family over career can lead to discriminatory practices, such as losing out on assignments or promotions, based on the presumption that they wouldn’t want to commit to roles requiring travel or unconventional hours.

Moreover, the issues of communication and perception play a significant role in the workplace challenges faced by women. Qualities such as assertiveness and confidence, often lauded by their male counterparts, can be misinterpreted when displayed by women, leading to labels such as “pushy” or “aggressive.” This double standard not only stifles women’s ability to express their ideas and leadership but also impacts their professional advancement.

The social dynamics within the workplace also contribute to the challenges, with exclusionary practices and “bro culture” creating environments where women may feel sidelined or unable to fully participate. These subtle forms of exclusion can be as simple as being overlooked in discussions or not being invited to informal gatherings, further isolating women and impeding their integration into critical networks.

Why Strive for Gender Equity?

Striving for gender equity in the workplace is not just a moral imperative but a strategic advantage that can significantly enhance organisational performance and decision-making.

Gender equity ensures that all employees, regardless of their gender identity, have equal access to opportunities, resources, and the right to be judged based on their merit and contributions. This level playing field fosters a diverse and inclusive environment where different perspectives are valued and leveraged for the collective success of the organisation.

One of the core benefits of gender equity is the enrichment of the decision-making process. When women are equally represented, particularly in leadership roles, organisations benefit from a broader range of viewpoints, experiences, and problem-solving approaches.

Moreover, gender equity contributes to a more positive and inclusive workplace culture. It signals a commitment to fairness and respect, qualities that are essential for building trust and collaboration among team members. When employees feel valued and respected, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to their work, leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.

Additionally, organisations that champion gender equity are more attractive to top talent. In an increasingly competitive job market, the reputation of a company as an equitable and inclusive place to work can be a significant draw for prospective employees. This not only helps attract diverse talent but also retains employees who value a work environment that respects and promotes equality.

How to Implement Positive Changes for Women

The Steps to Change process offers a structured approach to facilitating positive changes for women in the workplace, addressing the unique challenges they face through a four-phased journey of transformation.

The journey begins with the ‘See it’ phase, where organisations are encouraged to take a reflective look at their current practices, behaviours, and cultures through the lens of gender equity. By employing drama-based scenarios and real-life examples, this phase aims to mirror the existing workplace environment, highlighting both the overt and subtle ways in which women might be marginalised, undervalued, or subjected to bias.

Moving into the ‘Own it’ phase, individuals within the organisation are prompted to internalise the insights gained from the ‘See it’ phase, encouraging a personal commitment to change. This phase emphasises the importance of acknowledging one’s own biases and the role each person plays in either perpetuating or challenging the status quo. It’s about shifting from passive observation to active participation in fostering an inclusive environment for women.

The ‘Change it’ phase translates this personal commitment into actionable steps. It involves reevaluating policies, practices, and behaviours at both the organisational and individual levels to ensure they support gender equity. This might include revising recruitment practices to ensure a diverse pool of candidates, implementing mentorship programs specifically designed for women, and promoting an inclusive team culture where every voice is heard and valued.

Finally, the ‘Live it’ phase is about embedding these changes into the everyday fabric of the organisation. It’s a commitment to ongoing evaluation, adaptation, and reinforcement of practices that support gender equity. This phase ensures that the positive changes made are not transient but become a permanent part of the organisational culture, continually supporting and empowering women in the workplace.

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Learn More

You can learn more about how to tackle women’s challenges in the workplace and make lasting changes for your business by reaching out to us at Steps today! Our experts will be happy to provide you with further information about our courses.